The History of the Skip
August 28, 2012

The history of the skip can be traced back as far as the 1920s but it was in the 1960s that the skip as we know it came into its own, beginning its 50-year rise as the bulk waste disposal method of choice for both the domestic and the commercial markets.

Back in the early 1920s the shipping industry in Southport began to use a type of container that loosely resembled a skip and which was removed by a petrol-engine lorry as opposed to the horse-drawn refuse carts that were commonly used throughout the town. For most commercial waste disposal, however, tipper wagons remained the most common option. These were delivered to site by a team, which waited while it was hand or machine loaded before removing it again. The result, however, was the effective double handling of rubbish and the wasting of the delivery team's time while the wagon was loaded.

By the time the 1960s arrived, the boom in real estate development coupled with an expanding industrial sector meant that volumes increased and time became precious, leading to the development of the modern day skip. These were originally developed in Germany and were adopted by a London company called George Cross & Co., which quickly set about introducing the concept to a ready and willing UK market.

The original skips came in a "one-size-fits-all" format of around six cubic yards and remained that way for many years until skip hire companies embraced the changing needs of the market and developed a range of sizes shapes to suit different uses and waste volumes.

With disposable incomes soaring, households were keen to better themselves and their environment and the concept of DIY resulted in a frenzy of small building works, facilitated by the ease with which an old bathroom, kitchen or heavy garden waste could be removed at their convenience in a single skip.

Skip charges began at £5 plus a daily rental fee of 3 shillings. Profitability for skip hire operators was tight and remains so today, so next time you are looking for skip hire prices don't assume that it is all profit – far from it! Financial pressures on skip hire companies have continued to increase over time as landfill costs have soared (7% of skip cost was typically spent on landfill in the 1960s as opposed to 60% in the present day), leading many to reassess the way in which they dispose of our skip waste. Thankfully there are alternative options and many skip hire companies are now embracing more environmentally friendly waste disposal methods such as turning it into fuel to burn for energy.

Skip permits were first introduced in the early 1970s in response to a need for skip placement regulations. Until this time it had been possible to park a skip anywhere you wished, with no heed for traffic or neighbours. The requirement that they should be lit at night was enforceable only by council officers traipsing through the streets at night to identify unlit skips. As they were so hard to see it was agreed that all skips should be painted yellow – the easiest colour to see in the unlit darkness.

While their colour has not changed, the diverse uses for skips and their popularity with the general public continues apace and shows no sign of slowing.

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